Vietnam now wants to join the Philippines in taking China to court over South China Sea disputes. In March the Philippines took its China dispute to the Permanent Court of Arbitration. This could result in a legal decision by 2015 but China has indicated that it will not abide by any such ruling. Challenging such a decision exposes China to trade sanctions, which would stall economic growth and create a recession that would cause unrest. Chinese leaders are eager to avoid that and are hostile to Vietnam going to an international court. Thus China made nasty noises when Japan recently expressed an interest in joining the Philippines and Vietnam in taking China to court over the South China Sea disputes. Japan is a much bigger threat here because, as a major industrial power and trading nation Japan in better able to lead a call for international sanctions against Chinese aggression. Such sanctions are the one countermeasure China is least prepared to cope with. Sanctions on a major economic power like China are, however, extremely dangerous to the global economy. Think of it like nuclear warfare but without the big bangs. Think the 2008 worldwide recession but worse. Think risking a decade of rebuilding the economies of the most powerful nations on the planet after China was temporarily removed from the system. China might even threaten to use nukes if international sanctions hurt them economically, especially if the communist dictatorship there was facing overthrow by a population suddenly suffering massive unemployment and loss of newly acquired affluence. China has created a volatile situation by claiming all of the South China Sea and being taken to court over the issue shows that nukes are the not the only weapon of mass destruction. At the very least it’s a weapon of mass distraction.
The military has revealed that it is preparing a four year plan to expand and retrain Filipino forces to deal with growing Chinese aggression off the Filipino coast. Most of the plan is secret, probably because it involves existing or planned military alliances with neighbors and the United States.
The leftist NPA rebels are now facing problems with more and more rural people organizing self-defense militias to not only keep the NPA out of villages but to also carry out patrols to gather information for the army. This has resulted in many more NPA men not only deserting but formally accepting the government amnesty program. As a result of this trend there are only about 4,000 armed NPA men left and many are fighting to survive, not win the revolution. That 45 year old struggle has left over 100,000 people dead and there is little popular support for the NPA anymore. Many of the CPP (Communist Party of the Philippines) leaders who lead the NPA are in exile in Europe but key leaders in the Philippines are still essential for keeping the NPA operational and loyal. That task has been more difficult since 1989 and the collapse of popular support worldwide for communism. These leftist rebels have been fighting, in one form or another, since the end of World War II, trying to establish a communist dictatorship in the Philippines. They have not been very successful despite lots of economic and social problems they could promise to fix if they were in charge. Enthusiasm for a "communist solution" has gone downhill since the collapse of the Soviet Union, and its East European communist allies in 1989-91. That massive failure of communist states left NPA much weaker ideologically and vulnerable to the current amnesty program. Even NPA leaders admit that they currently have only about a quarter of their peak (in the 1980s) strength of 26,000 armed members. There have been recent attempts to reverse the decline in popularity. NPA men are instructed to behave better around civilians and the NPA has been found giving some civilians (especially health or aid workers) compensation (a few hundred dollars each) for wounds received during NPA attacks on soldiers or police. The government has increased its efforts to provide medical care for such victims of NPA violence and the NPA is trying to compete. But NPA really can’t compete. Out in the bush they survive by acting like bandits. The call their stealing “revolutionary taxes” or, if a large company is being attacked, “revolutionary justice” but most Filipinos see it all as crimes by another name.
May 23, 2014: In the south (Surigao del Sur province) soldiers clashed with a group of NPA; killing the rebel commander and six of his followers. The rest fled.
May 20, 2014: The Philippines and Vietnam have agreed to jointly oppose illegal Chinese claims on their coastal waters. China insists the entire South China Sea is Chinese and no one else can be there without Chinese permission. These two nations are no match for Chinese military power and are hoping that the U.S. helps them to resist and respond to any armed aggression from China.
In the south the army revealed that they had recently captured a much wanted Abu Sayyaf bomb expert (Nujir Ahidji) who was found carrying bomb components and apparently planning more attacks. Ahidji is believed responsible for building the bombs used in several attacks in the last few years.
In the south (North Cotabato province) an NPA attack on a police station failed and three dead rebels were left behind. The NPA always try to take their dead and wounded with them when they retreat so there were probably additional casualties among the communist rebels. Reinforcements arrived after 20 minutes and that led to the capture of one of the wounded rebels.
May 17, 2014: In the south (Davao City) two soldiers were wounded by an NPA landmine.
May 16, 2014: The Communist Party of the Philippines is in an uproar over the May 7th arrest of one of their officials. The man was accused of working with the NPA (the illegal armed wing of the local communists). Communist Party officials insisted the arrested man was immune to arrest because he was part of the negotiating delegation trying to work out a peace deal between the government and the NPA. The government was not persuaded.
May 15, 2014: The Philippines released photos proving that China is building military facilities on the disputed Johnson South Reef. China insists that they are merely trying to rebuild a reef that has been damaged by storms. This is not the sort of thing China does. Building bases on reefs, on the other hand, is something the Chinese do frequently in the South China Sea. The Chinese “reclamation” project looks more like a new island than a restored reef. The reef is claimed by the Philippines, Brunei, Malaysia, Taiwan, and Vietnam. Until 1978 it was occupied by Vietnam but in that year China took it by forces, killing 70 Vietnamese (and sinking two ships) in the process.
May 14, 2014: In the south (Zamboanga del Sur province) a policeman was ambushed by six NPA gunmen in the pre-dawn hours, but managed, despite being wounded, to fight off the attack until reinforcements arrived.
May 11, 2014: China is threatening the Philippines with retaliation (probably economic) if nine Chinese fishermen and their boat are not released. On May 6th the Filipino coast guard caught the boat illegally fishing off the Philippines and carrying over 500 turtles that are on the endangered list in the Philippines and illegal to take. The area off the Philippines is also claimed by China, as is all of the South China Sea. Only waters within 22 kilometers of land are considered coastal waters of countries bordering the South China Sea. For this reason China considers the Filipino action illegal.
In the south (Mindanao) a roadside bomb killed two soldiers. The bomb was planted by BIFF (a renegade MILF faction).
May 10, 2014: China is losing control of ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations) as that organization is now openly defying China. Founded in 1967 by Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore and Thailand, the regional group has since then expanded to include Brunei, Burma, Cambodia, Laos, and Vietnam. Most of these nations oppose China's violation of many members EEZ (Exclusive Economic Zone, waters 380 kilometers from the coast) in the South China Sea. China long had a staunch (and paid for) ally in ASEAN (Cambodia) who blocked all attempts to unify and oppose China. That is no longer working as anger within ASEAN against Chinese aggression growing more widespread and intense.
May 9, 2014: The government and MILF have agreed on forming an international panel to supervise the disarming of MILF combat forces in accordance with the new peace treaty.
May 8, 2014: The Philippines announced that it had recently seized (on the 6th) two Chinese fishing boats and their crews for taking hundreds of rare turtles within the Filipino EEZ. China called the seizure and arrests illegal.
May 7, 2014: Outside the capital a fire in an ammo storage area caused several large explosions that wounded 24 soldiers and firemen. The base was mainly used for training reservists.
May 6, 2014: In the south (Davao del Norte province) NPA announced that they had captured a soldier who belonged to a gang of soldiers who, in their free time, provided security for illegal loggers. The NPA added that they also found illegal drugs on the captured soldier. Exposing this sort of corruption this way is one of the more successful NPA tactics because the widespread corruption in the Philippines is a major social, political and economic problem that seems immune to reform efforts. At the same time the NPA stands accused of many crimes, like extortion and theft. The NPA has also been using kidnapped civilians as human soldiers when NPA gunmen are being pursued by soldiers and in danger of being surrounded.
May 5, 2014: A recent national survey found that 53 percent of Filipinos consider themselves poor. The main reason for that is the rampant and persistent corruption that stifles economic growth.